About marshallbutcharmstrong

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What Scares You?


In my last post, (right below this one) I wrote about how I thought we were killing ourselves with all the crap we’ve put in our water, air and soil. So since we’re on that subject, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about death. I can already hear what you’re thinking. “I’m not reading the rest of this post.” But c’mon, this is something most people don’t want to talk about but they really should. I mean, we’re all going to die, right? And we all know that, so what’s the problem? We should talk about it.

Now I’ll repeat something I just said. We are all going to die. Roll that around in your mind a little while. “We are all going to die.” (Why, why does he have to keep repeating that?) For a lot of people, I would venture to say, most people, death is not a cocktail party conversation topic. Not that I’ve ever went to a cocktail party, but you get my drift. Can you picture it? A bunch of people sitting around in their casual wear, sipping martini’s and Bruce says, “Hey guys, lets talk about death!” I’m pretty sure Bruce would not get invited to the next party. Most of us like being alive. We like believing we’re going to wake up tomorrow and carry out the plans we’ve made. And why not? We make plans. No one thinks, “No sense planning on tomorrow, I might be dead.”

But it scares us. It really does. If you’ve ever seen a survey or something like that, where people are asked what scares them most you’ll find all kinds of answers like spiders or snakes or whatever but almost no one says death scares them the most. This is funny because I can guarantee you that death is profoundly more scary to most people than spiders or snakes. But people don’t even like using the word. And dying is so far removed from most peoples minds that it doesn’t even register when they’re asked, what scares them most. So what is it about death that scares people? The loss of their life, certainly. We like life, for the most part and we don’t want it to go away. But more than that I think it is fear of the unknown.

And the unknown of death is huge. A question many people have wondered at is, is there an afterlife? This has been asked and thought about since the beginning of time. Many religions have tried to answer this question by claiming that there is. In Christianity for instance, the afterlife is talked about a lot. Heaven is explained and described. And all good Christians will go there. It will be beautiful, peaceful, and without fear or want. The streets will be paved in gold (ghastly). And yet, in my own experience, the people who are most afraid of death are the ones I know who are Christian. Think about that for a minute. The people I know who believe in Heaven are the ones who are most scared of death. One woman I know couldn’t talk about death or even listen to a conversation about it. It scared her that much. I asked her if she believed she would go to heaven when she died and she said yes. Then why did it scare her so? She said she didn’t understand that, it just did. All other Christians I know felt like her. Maybe not to her extreme but death scared the hell out of them.

There have been lots of books written about death. A quick Google search produces many titles and I often wonder how well those books have done. Who buys a book about death? I don’t think many of them are given as gifts, do you? “Happy Birthday dear, since you’re going to die someday, I thought you might like this book.” No, I can’t see it. But maybe we should talk about it. Anything you fear is a burden and makes your life a little less enjoyable. Sometimes we are encouraged to think about death. Preparing a will requires thinking about death. Not exactly the death part, but at least preparing for its eventuality. But more than that, we should at least try to get a little more comfortable with it. I mean, it’s going to happen, right?

We’ve all heard the stories about people dying during an operation and having an experience of heaven. I think someone even made a movie about it, certainly a book. The problem I have with these stories is that we know so little about our own brains, how do we know that these heaven trips didn’t happen in the person’s head? We really don’t. I’ve had dreams that were so vivid that when I woke up I questioned if they really happened. The experience left me confused and disoriented, and yet I realized later that it was just a dream. Who knows?

I don’t know how to tell you how to become more comfortable with death. A fear of the unknown is not something I suffer from. Humans are creatures of curiosity. We have a need to know so I would think that people would be a little less afraid of the unknown. But not when it comes to death. People don’t want to know. It’s not something I look forward to but when it happens, I’ll welcome the journey, wherever it leads.

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Are We Healthy?


I walk my dog Sophie, every morning. Even though I’m retired I set my alarm and get up at 6:00 a.m. to take her out for exercise. Why, you ask? Why get up so early to take Fido for a stroll? Well, simply put, my dog is an ass when it comes to other dogs. She doesn’t like them, and will try to go after them if she can. I don’t feel like being sued because she wants to fight. So, we get up early because this town is overflowing with dogs. Everyone it seems, has a dog. Or two. But most people don’t get up at 6:00 in the morning to walk them. Besides, it’s a beautiful time of day. Being the coolest part of the day year round, I like it a lot better in the summer. Anyway, Sophie’s disposition is not what this article is about.

Some mornings we walk past our local health food co-op. This morning as we went by, I noticed a rack of magazines through the window. All of them were some type of health magazine. Organic cooking, healthy lifestyles, etc. It brought to my attention just how enormous the health industry really is. Yoga classes, health clubs, health foods, healthy lifestyles, books and magazines and so on. And of course, it all costs money. A lot of money. The overall health industry rakes in billions of dollars annually. “Try this diet.” “Follow these 10 healthful tips for a better life.” “Read this book for the secret to a healthy life.” We see this every day. Television, radio, and social media are absolutely bombarded with ads for everything healthy. But are we healthier? Are the billions that people spend on getting healthier actually getting us healthier?

Personally I think we closed the door on any long term human existence on July 16th, 1945 with the culmination of the Manhattan project, resulting in the first Atomic bomb explosion in the deserts of New Mexico. I mean seriously, how do we know what the long term results of that will be? For all we know it could have affected some lizard which is now incubating under ground and will eventually turn into Godzilla and end up eating most of Arizona. How do we know whether or not we’ll all die from radiation poisoning? How do we know what’s causing the proliferation of cancer throughout the world? How do we know it didn’t come from nuclear testing? We don’t.

Organic foods cost more than non-organic. Capitalism guarantees it. Anything that people want in great quantities is going to be expensive. This pretty much also guarantees that people living at or below the poverty level cannot afford organic food. Even at McDonald’s a non-organic salad is more expensive than a Big Mac so just eating healthier in general is more costly. While I’m not going to get into the evils of Capitalism because this is not a political post, it just seems to me that we should be promoting health and healthy living better than we are. But in the good old USA, if you want it, it’s going to cost you.

The Mayo Clinic has a pretty good article on organic foods. You can read it here. The fact is, there’s hardly any research showing that any of this is doing us much good. Something interesting to note is that all those magazines that tell you how to be healthier are printed on some of the most toxic paper ever made. Glossy magazines don’t use recycled paper because they can’t get the quality they’re after, but they do use lots of toxic ink and glue. Have you ever stuck your nose into one? It makes you feel like you need oxygen afterward. I hate to be a Debbie Downer but I think we’re killing ourselves with a smile on our faces. We practice yoga and meditation while poisoning ourselves. And what can we do about it? Nothing. Now remember, this is just my opinion. But I think we have already put so much crap into our air, water and soil that organic foods are not going to help. If I want to start an organic farm I have to follow all kinds of government regulations to do so. At high cost. And remember kids, this is the same government which has been pumping tons of shit into the environment for decades. If you don’t want to pump shit into the environment, it’s going to cost you. Makes perfect sense, right?

I’d like to end this article on a positive note. Personally, I think quality of life is more important than quantity. If you don’t want to spend an hour on the toilet wrestling with your colon, don’t eat junk food. Just don’t get to excited by all the healthy living fads. Eat good food, live a good life. Relax.

The Window


Why the window? Good question,that. Why choose “The Window” as a name for my website? Windows it seems, are important to people. We need them. We need light and air in our homes. We need to see. The view out our windows is important. Some people build their homes based on the view out the windows. Did you know that there is a list on the website “Ranker” of 50+ movies with the word “window” in the title? And another list of 50+ song titles. What is it about windows that we find so important, so intriguing? If you do a web search of windows you’ll find tons of information, as you will for nearly everything, but interestingly, the window has been used as metaphor more often than most other things. Why is this, do you think?

“The eyes are the window of the soul,” “A window to another world.” These sayings and more all encompass the window as a gateway of sorts. Windows can also be thought of as dividers or barriers to whatever is on the other side. Like a skin you can see through. Open that window, and you let in whatever is out there. Safety perhaps; a closed window keeps out the storm. Or a means of escape; climbing through the window to freedom, or love, or mystery. From, “The Raven,” by Edgar Allen Poe: “Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, in there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore” The window, as a metaphor has been used for countless reasons. A window into the mind is a metaphor for seeing or perceiving someone’s thoughts, emotions or motives. Looking, seeing, perceiving. All use the window as a device.

I have used the window in more than a few of my poems and stories. A quick search of the website shows 56 posts with the word, “window” in them. Some of it was metaphor, some not. For whatever the reasons, we seem to like the image of a window. Either an actual window, or the image that it portrays, the meaning behind it, what it stands for.

So those are the reasons for using the window as the name of this blog. Those and others I can’t even think of. I’ve had great conversations through windows. I’ve yelled in anger, out of them. I’ve climbed in through windows and snuck out of them. I have dumped dish water out a window and emptied a chamber pot as well. I have let in the breeze and the rain. I have stuck my head and torso out a window in a raging storm. The window is a metaphor for so many things that it just seemed the perfect vehicle for the blog. I’ve written about so many subjects that any other name would have been inadequate. When you read this blog you’re opening a window. You never know what you’ll let inside.

Life As It Comes


Pain is a constant companion. On November 24th, 1972, I was involved in a car accident. I was 16 years old, a Junior in high school and I fractured a few of my lower lumbar vertebra. The swelling was so bad that my spinal chord was squeezed to the point of my not being able to move or feel from the waist down. After about 3 weeks I slowly got the feeling back but standing and walking was extremely painful. I had to wear a brace with big steel bars up the back for support. I spent a month in the hospital and another month at home before I could return to school. I have suffered with back pain and sciatica ever since. Regaining the movement that I had until then taken for granted took many more months. I have learned to live with the pain.

Now in my 60’s, I find that I’m getting arthritis. My grandmother on my dad’s side had it so bad that she could barely move on her own. I often wondered if I could inherit that. I’ve had it in my lower back for some time but within the last few years it has developed in my hips and hands. I play hand percussion and fool around with bass guitar but as time goes on those things are becoming more painful. As I am well familiar with pain it is not a surprise or necessarily a burden. Because of my back I have always had to be innovative in how I do things. So the new pain just presents more challenges for how to get things done with the least amount of suffering. I don’t like taking medication so I find other ways of working around it. Some days are just too much however, So I take pain reliever like Ibuprofen.

The joints in the fingers on my left hand make a crunching noise when I make a fist. Some days they hurt so bad I can’t make that fist. I know I’ll have to go to the Doctor soon and probably will take meds to alleviate some of that. I’m not so much worried about the pain as I am worried about the loss of movement. I really like my hands. And I like using them. Who doesn’t, right? And the pain in my hips may not be arthritis but a deteriorating joint. Yay, that sounds better! It is said that age and experience brings wisdom which is great but they leave out the part about your body falling apart. And of course, with the wonderful state of our health care system and insurance, it’ll cost more money than some countries GDP. Can’t wait for that.

Physical pain is a natural part of life. So of course, is emotional pain. All of us have to deal with pain of one kind or another. How we deal with it is important to our overall physical and emotional well being. I think of pain, physical and emotional as a natural part of existence. I don’t think of it as something to be avoided, but something to be dealt with. I, like most people, want less pain so I do things or don’t do things accordingly. Or I change how I do things. Sometimes the change is drastic, like not playing bass anymore. I only started playing bass about a year and a half ago but pushing down on the strings is really getting painful and to continue doing it will only make things worse. I like playing bass, but it’s not something I’m going to be able to continue with. Sometimes changes are not as drastic as that. Like changing how I pick things up. Using my middle finger as opposed to my pointer. I don’t mind change. It keeps the mind sharp.

All this I guess is to say that change happens. Looking at something not necessarily as bad, but different, can contribute to a more stable emotional well being. Pain is not bad, it’s just different than not having pain. Good and bad are just concepts that you agree with. If you can view something as different instead of bad, it helps you think about it in a more constructive way. Now I know that the pain I’ve suffered has not been debilitating. That’s not what I’m talking about. If I ever reach that point I believe I’ll figure out how to deal with that as well. Dealing with pain for me is like dealing with anything else. Whatever comes my way, I look at it, study it and figure out what to do or not do about it. If I can get the pain to go away, that’s great. If not, I’ll figure out how to live with it. What else can you do?

Summer Heat


I despise hot weather. I live in Minnesota and many people here can’t wait for summer to arrive after a long cold Winter. Me, not so much. I love Spring and Fall when the temperature is mild (around 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and the sun on your shoulders feels good. But when that sun starts to cause pain, like the cold air does in Winter, I head for the shade, with a fan blowing or even air conditioning. Now I don’t like AC but if the alternative is blistering heat well, I’ll take the AC. People in Minnesota flock to the beach in summer to soak up the rays and get a tan. Not me. I will no more hang out in the sun in summer than stand in 30 below Winter air without a coat on.

The difference I feel, between Summer and Winter is this: I can go outside in Winter with a coat, boots, hat and gloves and if I stay active, I will stay warm. In Summer when it’s 90 degrees outside, with high humidity like we often get here, there’s nothing you can do to stay cool. It’s just hot and I’m miserable. It saps all my energy, it dull my mind and I get cranky. I hate sweating and feeling damp. It makes me feel prickly and itchy and rashy. I know, rashy is not a word. The only reason I stay here is because I’ve got family and friends.

I used to know a woman from Florida. She tried to tell me it was the same as living in Minnesota. “We just stay inside during the hottest months like you do in Winter,” she said. “Wrong,” I said. We Minnesotans are outside a lot in Winter. There is a multitude of Winter activities that people take part in. Skiing, snowboarding, skating, snowshoeing, hiking, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and lots of Winter celebrations all over the state. We are outside all throughout the Winter whereas in Summer in places like Florida when it’s really hot and humid well, you can’t escape that unless you stay indoors.

I’ve thought about moving further North. Northern Minnesota is beautiful with it’s Pine forests and thousands of lakes. But I would sorely miss my family and friends. And they, me. So here I stay. And I’ll be hot and miserable until the temperature gets below 65 and stays there. Oh well.

A Minnesota Summer


There’s a storm coming, I can feel it. My head has been blocked up all day. It feels like having my head inside a big metal can with my ears stuffed with cotton. Not that I would know how that feels but, I can imagine. Previously, the day had been sunny and hot. 90 degrees on the 4th of June is hot. Now it’s cloudy and getting dark in the Northwest. I heard a distant rumble of thunder. Anytime it gets to 90 degrees in early June you know you’re getting a storm. Here it comes.

I’m not afraid of storms, in fact I quite like them. Thunder and lightning, rain and wind. They’re exciting. But storms can be dangerous so a little preparation never hurts. I’ll unplug the computer, charge my cell phone and find my flashlight. The power can go out. Lightning can strike, blowing out your electronics. I’m hearing more thunder now. The anticipation is palpable. Here comes the rain and wind. All my windows are closed and my air conditioner still works. With any luck the temperature will go down after the storm and I can open the windows. I don’t like the air conditioning but my dog, who is half Husky, half Malamute can’t handle the heat. So I put it on, but only on the hottest days. Having Winter for half the year requires us hardy Minnesotans to keep our windows shut with the heat on. So I really love Spring when you can throw them open and breath air that doesn’t have a taste.

The rain and wind quit as suddenly as they appeared. Now the trees are dead still. Not a good sign. It means Nature is gearing up for a blast. Just wait, it says. The best is yet to come. A long time ago I had a girlfriend who was afraid of storms. It was a warm mid summer night and the lightning and thunder were beautiful. I was standing in the open doorway watching it and I tried to get her to come stand with me. She wouldn’t do it. I kept trying and finally she came over. I was explaining how beautiful I thought the storm was when suddenly lightning hit the tree right across the street. Searing heat and light along with the loudest noise I had ever heard. She screamed the second loudest noise I ever heard and turned and ran for cover. I laughed at the absurdity of the chances of that actually happening and she cursed my name for an hour. Good storm memories.

Now the thunder is being more persistent. A continuous low rumble but still no wind. We’re going to get it good. I just looked at the radar and there’s a huge red blob bearing down on us from the Northwest. It looks angry. Well, it is storm season after all. The pressure in my head is building. With any luck at all, no one will be hurt.

I took a break while writing this because the storm finally broke. It was wild. 60 to 85 mile per hour winds in places. My big Maple trees were rocking pretty good. Heavy rain and wind. We’ve had copious amounts of rain this spring and in a lot of areas the ground is saturated which means that big trees could come down in the wind. The temperature has dropped by about 20 degrees and now I have my windows open. Unfortunately we have more bad weather ahead. In a couple hours we’ll get hit again. Storms after dark are the worst. You can’t see what’s happening. Oh well, we have to take it as it comes.

In Your Dreams, Quietly


For one who wanted to travel,
but could never find a way
we are doing it for you

Seeing for you, experiencing for
you, your memory holds us strong,
binds us together as we go

Giving ourselves to these places,
leaving our hearts behind and leaving
you as a token of our lost love

Your ashes now reside close
to home and in faraway countries

Across the sea and across
the mountains, places you loved
in your dreams, quietly
cherishing all you had never seen

We embrace the world for you
and give you to the nature
you loved so dearly

New haiku

pale brown mountains
rise up from a deep green sea
sailboats and sunlight

ancient rituals
of a people long dead
brings them back to us

carrying north men
the ancient boat plies the waves
flaming red hair

mountains rise to reach
an ancient people of lore
the celts embrace me

of the ocean waves
salt and spray release me
time out of time

naked and free
in the standing stone circle
ancestors gather

of sunlight and sorrow
and a blue green tide
of a steadfast people

Head Gear


I like hats. More preferably, caps. Unbeknownst to a lot of people, there is a difference. A hat, has a brim all the way around it, and a cap has a brim only in the front or none at all. I’ve worn caps my entire life but began seriously wearing them when I started losing my hair. Now you may think this was a vanity decision but you’d be wrong. I’m not in the least, a vain person. I’ve never cared much about losing my hair. In fact, when my wife’s chemo caused her hair to start falling out I willingly shaved my head to match hers. The decision to wear caps full time was utilitarian. They keep my head warm. More importantly, they keep my head from being sun burnt. I’m of Northwestern European decent and have the pale pinkish skin to prove it. I can get sunburned just by thinking about it. So I rarely go out without a cap on my head.

I also have a penchant for obscure things so I looked up the history of hats today and strange enough, there is one. Hats go back a long way. The 27-30,000 year old Venus of Willendorf figurine show a woman wearing a woven cap.

According to Wikipedia “One of the first pictorial depictions of a hat appears in a tomb painting from Thebes, Egypt, which shows a man wearing a conical straw hat, dated to around 3200 BC.” That’s definitely back a few years. And again from Wikipedia, “One of the earliest known confirmed hats was worn by a bronze age man (nicknamed Ötzi) whose body (including his hat) was found frozen in a mountain between Austria and Italy, where he’d been since around 3250 BC. He was found wearing a bearskin cap with a chin strap, made of several hides stitched together, essentially resembling a Russian fur hat without the flaps.”

Lots of literary references to hats and caps can be found of course but my favorite is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord Of The Rings where the author describes one of the characters: “Presently Sam appeared, trotting quickly and breathing hard; his heavy pack was hoisted high on his shoulders, and he had put on his head a tall shapeless felt bag, which he called a hat. In the gloom he looked very much like a dwarf.”

“Which he called a hat.” I love that line. It pretty much says that you can put anything on your head, and call it a hat. My hats and caps are pretty conventional compared to that.

As I said, I wear caps to keep the sun and cold off my head because I just don’t have enough hair to do the job anymore. Although I have a lot of them and they’re quite varied in style, they have never, for me at least, been a fashion accessory. There’s nothing much fashionable about a baseball cap or a crocheted winter cap. Top hats and Bowlers have historically been fashion accessories for men and women of Britain wear some really wild ones.

You may have heard the expression, “Mad as a hatter.” It comes from 18th and 19th century England where hat makers, (milliners) used Mercury in the making of felt which was used for Bowlers and Top Hats. Prolonged exposure to Mercury produces symptoms mimicking insanity or madness so if you were mad as a hatter you were thought quite crazy. I don’t think any of my caps will make me crazy, so that’s a good thing. And finally, maybe this seems elementary to me but I’ve never thought one would need instructions for wearing a cap. However, this last photo proves me wrong. A tip of the hat to this guy for making it famous on the internet for all the wrong reasons.

A Morning Meditation

A misty thunderstorm breeze
waves the flags of our fathers
over a memorial to their
sacrificed lives

Garden flowers bow
to each other in imagined
reverence like Buddhist
monks before morning meditation

A sound of thunder in
the distance premeditates
the weather’s intent,
a dog barks at nothing

The swollen river flows
endlessly in projected
indifference to the
surrounding landscape

Geese, marshaling their young
from the intrusion of
a human swim away from
shore to safety within current

And I with wet boots and
quiet regard cannot add to
or take away anything from this,
that will make any difference

Choosing Happiness


Now that I’m finished with writing about my trip to Ireland, what’s next? I could just take a break and not write anything for a while. I’ve definitely done that before. But I don’t feel like that. I don’t really want to take a break. Something I do almost all the time is observe people. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick, as the saying goes. Psychology and Philosophy are two of my favorite things. So I’m a people watcher, and I listen to people’s words. What they say and how they say it. It reveals a lot about how a person thinks, and how they think is fascinating. This morning, I was thinking about happiness. What makes people happy and why? I had a conversation with a friend recently and he asked me, “What makes you happy?” I thought about this for a while. I knew the answer immediately but I was curious how he would respond to it. To the question of what makes me happy, I answered, “Nothing.” He gave me a look of surprise and said, “But you seem to be pretty happy most of the time, and yet you say nothing makes you happy. I don’t get it.” So I responded with this: “The word ‘nothing’ is derived from two words, no and thing. No thing makes me happy. I, make me happy. I’m happy because I’ve decided that I want to be happy. Period.

Now you might ask, “Aren’t there things that make you unhappy? Things that really make you mad? Sure there are. And when I say that nothing makes me happy, That’s not quite true. There are a lot of things that can make a person happy, or sad or angry, jealous, envious, joyful etc. All those emotions are stirred by lots of different thing. The problem is that feeling emotional about something is temporary. Someone says something that really riles you up. You get really angry and then after awhile you settle down again. Or you become really joyful about something but after awhile, that settles down too. So by that definition, no thing can make you happy. Because the happiness you get from things and from people is always temporary. Lasting happiness comes from deciding that you’re going to be happy. Is it that simple? No, not really. In order to choose to be happy it takes a certain mind set. So let’s explore that.

One of the reasons why people are unhappy comes from their prejudices. And believe me, we all have them. Prejudice can be about anything. We can be prejudice over people who drive expensive cars. We can have prejudices about race, politics, or about the choices people make. It goes on and on. If you give honest thought about what your prejudices are I’m sure you’ll realize some of them. I know I have. Choosing to be happy means in part, getting rid of prejudice. To shed the things that make you unhappy. To realize that most of the things that we care about really don’t matter. My mom was a worrier. She worried about everything, all the time. If you weren’t worried about something, she would worry for you. When she reached her 80’s she told me that she finally realized that she had wasted a lot of her life worrying about things that really didn’t matter. She regretted doing that. This is what I’m talking about. Being happy means getting rid of the things that get in the way of being happy.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get angry. There are plenty of things a person can justify being angry about. Look at our politics today. But being happy means that your base line is happiness. That’s your starting point, and that’s where you return after feeling other emotions. Realizing that all emotions are temporary and shouldn’t be clung to can help you shed a lot of emotional weight. In order to have happiness as a base line you have to let go of the things that get in the way of that. And you have to realize that no thing can make happiness for you. Let’s say you buy a new car. It smells great, everything is shiny and new, and it runs great. Four years later it’s dirty, banged up and repairs cost a lot of money. Your feelings have changed about the thing you used to love. All things and people cause emotions to arise and feeling them is fine. In order to be truly, lastingly happy we cannot cling to our emotions. Feel them and let them go and realize that because someone made you really happy today, and maybe they will make you really happy tomorrow, they are not where true lasting happiness comes from. It comes from inside yourself.

Depression can get in the way of happiness. And if you have depression, you can’t simply get rid of it because you want to be happy. But just like other illnesses, depression shouldn’t define who you are. When you are introduced to another person, are you introduced as the illnesses that you have or are you introduced by your name? A person can still choose happiness as a baseline even when they have depression. My wife did that. Sometimes her depression was debilitating. But she would rally herself and come back to a basic happiness. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I know there are lots of things about depression I don’t know. I only know about the things I’ve experienced with the people I know who have had it. And I know that not all cases of depression are the same.

I’ve told the story about one of my granddaughters who went to Honduras. There she met children in an orphanage who basically lost everything. No home, no parents, etc. And yet these kids were happy. They were so joyful that American teenagers would come so far just to see them. They played and laughed without a care in the world. How does that happen? They haven’t been indoctrinated into believing that they shouldn’t be happy. You can see it in all children. Most kids are pretty happy all the time. Sure, they fall and scrape their knees and cry, but soon they’re up running around again. They haven’t been convinced that happiness is not normal. Children don’t care about what color someone is or how many studs or tattoos a person has. They don’t care if you’re gay or care about your past. If you play with them and love them, they’ll love you back. True happiness. We are born with it. But as we live our lives, lots of things get in the way of our happiness. We can however, find it again.

The Last Day

As the title of this post reveals, We finally reached the last day of our tour. I went to Ireland alone, and I was a little apprehensive about spending seven days with strangers. I’m a loner. I like doing things by myself and I can go for days without seeing or speaking to another human being and I’m just fine with that. That being said, the people on my tour were friendly and just plain good folks. They gave me the space I needed without questioning or worrying overly much (I think) about me. It was a good time and even though I was glad to come home again, I miss seeing them all. We had two tour guides on this trip. The first one, Carmel, was vibrant and enthusiastic, but she had a family wedding to attend so she left us on the third day. Our next guide Damian, was very well informed of Irish history and knew small details about everywhere we went. He was a little too wired for me as I’m very relaxed and laid back but he was a great guide. I would definitely recommend Vagabond/Driftwood tours to anyone wanting a tour vacation. (This is not a commercial)

Not too far from Clifden we stopped at a spot where a man still cuts Turf by hand. Turf, or Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter that over time gets compressed and becomes a fossil fuel. It only grows 1 mm a year so it could be used up if too much is cut. For centuries it has been the fuel with which Irish people have heated their homes. Today, it is cut by machine but this guy still cuts his by hand. An amazing amount of work, and it has a wonderful smell when burned.

Next we stopped at Kylemore Abbey. The castle was finished in 1868 by a wealthy Doctor and took 100 men 4 years to complete. Eventually it was sold to Irish Benedictine Nuns who ran a school for Catholic girls until 2010. It’s an amazing place.

These next photos are from Ireland’s only true fjord at Killory Harbor. The lines in the water are for fishing Mussels. The fjord goes 10 miles inland.

The 1952 Technicolor John Ford movie, “The Quiet Man” was filmed at Cong, County Mayo, Ireland. It starred, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. This is the bar that was filmed in the movie.

The rest of the trip back to Dublin was uneventful. I was dropped at my hotel about 5 pm and had the rest of the evening to relax and think about all I had seen. Seven days on the road produced a whirlwind of sights and history, some of which I know I forgot to include here. The main take away that I came home with is that the people and food of Ireland are great, and the country is beautiful. What little I saw of the island makes me want more. The mountains are spectacular and the wild Atlantic is mesmerizing. Unfortunately Ireland has had to cater to tourism but it has brought a lot of money to the economy. So just as they learned when they won their freedom from Great Britain, sacrifices have to be made. In order for the Republic of Ireland to gain independence they had to give up the six counties of Northern Ireland which stayed a part of Great Britain. It was a sore battle to lose but it was the only way to be free. Thanks for sticking with me on this journey and maybe you’ll get to go yourself.

Sunset over Dublin

The West Coast of Ireland

Before I went to Scotland last year I purchased a European electric plug adapter. It looks like some kind of torture device with about ten different points sticking out of it. You have to study the thing to figure out which plug works wherever you are. And then you have to figure out where exactly you’re supposed to plug your U.S. plug into it. I’m lucky I didn’t burn down the hotels I stayed in. Cell phones have become so prominent throughout the world that a lot of hotels now have recharging plugs (USB) built in to their electric outlets. That’s handy.

Bathrooms are strange in Ireland. I found about six different shower variations in my hotels. They all had a fairly recognizable tub spigot but the way in which you used the shower could be quite different from place to place. One had a metal hose leading to a horizontal chrome tube. On one end of the tube you turned a round knob to let the water flow and on the other end another round knob increased the temperature. One had a sleeve built in to the tub faucet that you had to pull down on to activate the shower. Another had a large dial in the wall. The outside ring activated the water and the inside ring increased the temperature. It got to be kind of a game to see how the shower worked in each hotel I stayed in. Some toilets have the tank built into the wall, others have the tank exposed and still others had the tank above the toilet at eye level. Many of the sinks had separate hot and cold taps. Oh and most places call them toilets, not bathrooms.

They don’t use the words enter or exit. Signs say, “Way in” or “Way out.” Turn signals on cars are called “indicators,” and if a driver fails to use them they say, “He didn’t indicate.” A line in which people wait for something is called a queue and if you’re expected to line up for something you’ll be told to “Queue up here.” There are plenty of Semi trucks hauling goods all around the island and they’re called lorries. Many semi’s in the U.S. have sleeper cabs for long haul trucking but I didn’t see a single one in Ireland. Apparently, because of Ireland’s small size, there isn’t anywhere you can drive that you need sleep for. Most cars that I saw were manual transmission. The drivers seat is on the right hand side of the car and you would think that everything would be a mirror image in the car but it’s not. The pedals on the floor are in the same configuration as American cars. The gears are also the same except for reverse, which is to the left of the other gears instead of to the right like American cars. If you’re not paying attention it can all seem disorienting. Just going down the street in a taxi makes you feel like you’re going to crash. You keep wanting the driver to get in the other lane! You can risk your life just stepping off a curb in Ireland. We don’t realize how used to things we are. When crossing a street we expect cars to move from left to right. Uh, uh. They move from right to left in Ireland. It can be dangerous.

In the last post I left off at the town of Ballyvaughn. It is a pretty little town, very clean and quiet that sits on Galway bay. Just to the south is an area called, “The Burren.” The Burren is a large area that is quite rocky and has a complicated geography with gray surface stone that has many cracks and fissures filled with soil in which grows a variety of grasses and flowers. It is also pretty much treeless.

It’s definitely different from the “40 shades of green” that you see throughout the rest of Ireland. Moving on from Ballyvaughn, we rounded Galway Bay. When I say rounded, what I really mean is the road twisted and turned like a roller coaster. The scenery all around was beautiful with continued glimpses of the wild Atlantic. Taking this route, we made our way to Galway city. Our tour driver dropped us off in the city center and gave us two hours for lunch. Galway has a population of about 80,000 and I wish I could have seen more of it because I wasn’t impressed by the city center. Very touristy, apparently what the Irish think tourists want to see. And maybe they’re right because the place was absolutely crowded with tourists buying all kinds of tourist junk. Plastic green shamrocks with Ireland printed on the front and “Made in China” on the back. No thanks.

From Galway we drove to Clifden. Clifden is located in an area called The Connemara. The Connemara is a cultural region which is part of the Gaeltacht, The areas in which the Irish language is primarily spoken. It is a land of rugged, mountainous beauty dotted with lakes and streams and small villages.

On the way there I noticed a road sign that said, “Roundstone, 7 miles.” I asked our tour guide if we were going that way. He said no, we would be turning onto another road soon. I told him I always wanted to see the village because it was the setting for the movie, “The Matchmaker” and was a beautiful location and a quintessential Irish village. He said he hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t say any more. He also didn’t turn onto the other road. So he drove us through Roundstone. Everyone loved it and it looked exactly like it did in the movie. Damien, our guide, is a great guy!

Roundstone

When we reached Clifden we stayed at a hotel that used to be a castle.

Clifden, population 1597, is a fairly recent village, beginning life in the early 1800’s. Clifden gained prominence after 1905 when Guglielmo Marconi decided to build his first high power transatlantic long wave wireless telegraphy station four miles (6 km) south of the town. On 15 June 1919 the first non-stop transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown crashlanded in Derrygimlagh bog, close to Marconi’s transatlantic wireless station. When Captain Alcock spotted the green bog he thought it was a meadow where he could safely land his Vickers Vimy biplane. The plane’s landing gear sank into the soft bog and was destroyed. Alcock and Brown were later transported back to Clifden town by stage coach with only minor injuries. When they returned using the Marconi Railway, the locals had helped themselves to parts of the plane as souvenirs. (Wikipedia)

Clifden

After our visit to Clifden, it was time to head back to Dublin and the end of my stay in Ireland. In the next post I’ll fill you in on the our last day and some of the great places we saw.

Going North

As I sit at the computer writing on this very wet Memorial day holiday in the U.S. I’m thinking back to the great weather I experienced in Ireland. It was partly cloudy and dry almost every day. The temperature reached the mid 50’s every day and we only had rain one day and that was light and only part of the day. Even the tour drivers commented on what great luck we had coming to Ireland that week. Here, as I look out my window the ground is saturated and my area is under flood warnings from the excessive rain we’ve had this spring. Nothing to do but write.

And so we turned North from the Dingle peninsula. The Rose of Tralee International Festival, celebrated each year in Tralee, County Kerry takes its name from a song about the love of a man for a beautiful maiden in Tralee. The idea for the festival started in a bar, presumably over pints of Guinness as an idea to bring more tourists to the area in 1959. The contestants come from all around the world and are chosen for their “personality and suitability to serve as ambassadors for the festival,” not for their beauty. We also stopped at the South Pole Inn in Annascaul. An historic public house (pub) Started by Tom Crean an explorer who went to Antarctica three times under the command of Robert Scott and Sir Earnest Shackleton.

There were many places where we simply pulled off the road to look at the scenery. Not all of these photos are in order of when I took them but it pretty much gives you the idea that Ireland is a beautiful country and just when you think you’ve seen the most beautiful spot you get proved wrong.

There are many ancient ruins scattered all across Ireland and one of the reasons I selected this tour is because it stopped at plenty of them. In the next photos is Lathair Mhainistreach an Riaisc or Reask Monastic Site. Probably dating from the 6th century and the most readily available building material they had was stone. Many of these places have been reduced to low stone walls by locals using the stones to build their own houses and long before people took an interest in their history.


At the town of Tarbert we took the ferry across the River Shannon estuary, It was about a mile across and then we continued North. We visited the Cliffs of Mohor, a fairly well known site of staggeringly beautiful cliffs from 300 to 700 feet in height where Puffins nest. Unfortunately it is very commercialized but that didn’t detract from the beauty.

Somewhere along the way we visited a sheep farm and were given a sheep dog demonstration. We wound up in the town of Ballyvaughn where I had fun talking to a couple of donkeys.

Before reaching Ballyvaughn however, we stopped at Poul na Bron Dolmen. It is an ancient Portal Tomb which when built would have been covered in earth and stone. They were used to store the ashes of ones family.

Another ancient site is of an ancient Tower house. There are tons of these scattered all across Ireland. This one was well preserved.

Here is a spot that we stopped along the side of the road just to admire the scenery. I’ll leave you with these photos and pick up the trail again next time.

Settling In

The first couple days of travel are kind of weird. The time change from Minnesota to Ireland is six hours. That’s a big difference. You can find a bigger difference in time if you want to. For instance Tokyo, Japan is eleven hours ahead of Minnesota. But six hours is plenty for me, thanks. So it takes a couple days to get used to gaining or losing hours in your day. Once you do, you start to feel normal again. It’s called Jet Lag for lack of a better term. Actually, it’s called Jet Lag Disorder according to the Mayo Clinic website. So it’s perfectly acceptable to be a grumpy shit for the first couple days of your trip because hey, you have a bona fide disorder!

One of the first things you get introduced to when you go to Ireland is the world famous “Full Irish Breakfast.” I never heard of it until I went there so I’m not sure how world famous it is but, whatever. Apparently the Irish are trying to project the idea that they are a hardy bunch. You will be told, “You have to get the full Irish breakfast. You got to eat like the Irish.” Now I don’t know about anyone else but if I, “Ate like the Irish” I’d weigh 600 pounds and have coronary disease. I’m pretty sure the Irish don’t eat like this every morning. And here’s why. The typical Full Irish Breakfast consists of: Bacon rashers, (which is ham) streaky bacon, (which is bacon) pork sausages, fried eggs (or scrambled), white pudding, (which is nether white, nor pudding) black pudding, (which is nether black nor pudding) toast and fried tomato. Sauteed mushrooms are also sometimes included, and baked beans, hash browns, liver, and brown soda bread. Don’t forget the fresh fruit, coffee, and of course, tea. Oh, and orange juice. I have witnessed Americans try to eat all that thinking that’s what the Irish do. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Oh and by the way Black pudding, is Blood sausage. White pudding is Blood sausage without the blood. Just sayin’. So then, after your typical Full Irish Breakfast you’ll have to walk to the next town to feel better.

And so we moved on to Killarney National Park. The photos pretty much say more than I could.

The Jaunting car rides are there because there are no motorized vehicles allowed in the park. The ruins are from an old Friary all hand built by monks from stone. The waterfall is named Torc waterfall. A Torc is a piece of ancient jewelry worn around the neck and I’m not sure how that relates to water but, it was beautiful.

Torc

Killarney National Park is situated just Northeast of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks which is the tallest mountain range in Ireland. We didn’t come close enough however, to get good photo’s of them. And my recollection of what I saw on what days is a little fuzzy so I may get things a wee bit out of order. From Killarney we drove to the Dingle peninsula. At the end of the peninsula on Slea Head is the furthest Western point of Ireland and subsequently, Europe. Also off Slea Head lie the Blasket Islands. From Wikipedia: The islands were inhabited until 1953 by a completely Irish-speaking population and today are part of the Gaeltacht. (Irish speaking areas) At its peak, the islands had 175 residents. The population declined to 22 by 1953. The government evacuated the remaining residents to the mainland on 17 November 1953 because of increasingly extreme weather that left the island cut off from emergency services. The evacuation was seen as necessary by both the Islanders and the government. You can take a boat out there to explore but if bad weather comes, (which happens often) you could be stuck there.

Southeast of the town of Dingle a number of Ogham (pronounced Om) stones have been found. Ogham is an ancient alphabet dating anywhere from the 1st century B.C.E. to the 6th century C.E.. When it was deciphered it was found that most of the writing were personal names.

Ogham Stone

Now of course, you can buy necklaces, bracelets, hats and tee shirts with Ogham writing on them. Also near Dingle is Inch Strand. “Inch” is the Anglicized word for In-ish which means Island in Irish. Inch Strand is a beautiful beach that used to be an island.

Inch Strand

We spent two nights in Dingle to get a little down time from so much traveling. Dingle, a town of about 2000 people seems to be made up of a series of pubs, B & B’s, churches, restaurants, more pubs, and hotels. Nice town though.

Dingle also has its very own Bottle Nose Dolphin. “Fungie” showed up around 1983 and has been there ever since. He is so easily seen in Dingle harbor that regular boat tours are taken every day to photograph him. I think that’s enough excitement for now. After Dingle, we head North.